The leaders of the Hospitality Industry came together at the heart of the Big Apple on Tuesday, July 5, 2023 for the Bisnow NYC conference at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square to learn about the various topics affecting the financial aspects of the current hotel market. I was given the opportunity to be a part of the second panel discussing how Design can be an important collaboration with brand and ownership to elevate the guest experience while helping the property maintain value and maximize the ROI.
I was joined on the panel by fellow women leaders in the industry, including Rika Lisslö (VP of Development Hyatt Hotels), Chelsea Salamone (Senior Director, Aquisitions & Development Standard Hotels), and Jessica Haley (Principal/Director of Interior Design RODE Architects, along with the moderator, Jack Pulvirenti (Partner, Citrin Cooperman). While there are many aspects of design that have an impact on the guest experience and property financials, we mainly focused on five key elements: Personalization, Technology, Sustainability, Health & Wellness, and Adaptability. I wanted to further expand on the brief overview we discussed during the panel and go into a bit more detail!
Providing a curated experience for the guest is key, from customizing the amenities through names on the guestroom tv, to providing preferred food or beverage in the rooms, any personal touch that makes the guest feel welcomed and recognized will have a tremendous impact on their satisfaction. From a design perspective, personalization will also include references to the local culture of the property. Bringing in elements from local artists, local cuisine, and local history into the property gives the guest a more immersive experience during their stay, rather than just experiential. Travelers are more interested in creating memories and sharing their travel on social media, so any opportunity to integrate special moments into the property spaces will add to the value and create a memorable experience.
Technology has always been an important factor in hotels, but since the advent of COVID-19, many properties became heavily reliant on it. From contactless check-in, to QR codes for menus, information, and other functions, guests are more tech-savvy than they used to be in years past. The challenge is to not have the property so dependent on technology that you lose the always important personal factor and human interaction with the guests. Integrating features such as app-based check-in/check out, digital room keys, and the ability to have video conferencing are some ways that the hotel can offer guests options that are more self-service and allow the staff to focus more on personal guest interactions to better serve them. Providing good wi-fi services and smart capabilities throughout the hotel is imperative to the guest experience, but not to the point that the “older” generations can’t figure out how to catch an elevator to their room!
Sustainability in the Hospitality industry has become paramount for both the guests as well as the Owners/Brands. With current issues on climate change and natural resource management, it’s imperative that the hotel includes a strong sustainability program. From water management, to solar energy, to waste and recycling programs, today’s guests are very interested in reducing their carbon footprint, even when traveling. Designing for sustainability has become a lot more accessible and cost effective through the use of various materials and innovative products. Using carpet vendors that will take the old carpet and fully recycle it into new carpet prevents landfill pollution. Providing wall-mounted bath products instead of single-use plastic bottles reduces waste of product as well as resources. Many manufacturers now have LEED-certified products for furniture, fixtures, and equipment that can be used to supplement the sustainability story for the hotel.
Health & Wellness
Health and Wellness has also become a major consideration when it comes to Hospitality, with more guests being aware of both their physical and mental well-being. From providing spaces that are clean and sanitary to fitness and spa services, hotels are faced with an additional factor to add into their operations. Adding special amenities like meditation or yoga classes, providing free bicycles for guest use, and adding healthy food and drink options are some ways to market health and wellness from a service perspective. Design elements can include planning nook areas for more isolated use, green areas and living walls, and spaces that bring in more natural light that can include access to outdoor areas in temperate weather. Providing furniture that is more ergonomic and barrier-free, specifying materials that are easier to clean and maintain, and creating purposeful areas throughout the property where guests have options to sit privately or interact with others as they choose are also ways to reinforce the feeling of well-being throughout the property.
Adaptability has become a new buzzword for all industries, and especially in hospitality. With the advent of the massive shift in how people work, live, and travel, hotels have had to rethink how to best serve the ever-changing needs of the guests. Many people now combine their travel to be a combination of Business and Leisure, or “Bleisure” and therefore the “busy” days at the properties are becoming less defined and more spread out. This requires that the hotel provides spaces that can be many things to many people to satisfy the different uses guests are expecting from their stay on property. From lobby areas that can be used for small meetings in the daytime to social hubs in the evenings, to guestrooms that have “work from home” comforts and ammenites, adaptability of spaces is key to any hotel operation so guests can transition seamlessly from business to leisure on the same trip. Designing a variety of spaces for multi-use is a challenge, but thinking outside the box with how the guest can use the same space in different ways will maximize the revenue for the property while offering the guest many options during their stay.
While there are many more ways of maximizing property value and elevating the guest experience, these are starting points that can be used to implement the key factors that are becoming more and more important in the industry. It’s also important to hire team members who understand and have the experience to integrate these principles, from the staff at the property to the design and operation teams that provide the spaces and experiences that the guest see and use. Collaboration across all aspects of Hospitality is key and in the end will provide a better product and in turn, better service! In the words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success!”.